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3. A Wise Man Gives What He Cannot Keep to Gain What He Cannot Lose

– Chapter 3 –

A Wise Man Gives What He Cannot Keep to Gain What He Cannot Lose

Luke 9:23–27

“What Is A Truly Wise Man?”

Melbourne Camp, January 14, 1990


23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23–27, ESV)

We are facing many mountains today. You have mountains in your life; I have mountains in my life; the world is full of mountains; and the church is full of mountains. Today my heart is heavy because of the mountains that surround the church and exist within the church. I will explain the reasons for this later in the message. So we need the faith to pray this prayer for removing the mountains as in the song:

Give me the faith that can remove
And sink the mountain to a plain.

Brothers and sisters, it may be too late for the church. I hope it is not too late for you.

My message today has two parts. The first part relates to you, each person individually, and brings out the truth that it is not too late for you. The second part relates to the church of God, to which you and I — we all — belong, if you are truly a Christian. Unfortunately, for most of the church, it is too late. Over the recent months, God has given me a prophetic message and pro­phetic insight that it is too late for the church. One morning, a few months ago, I said to my wife Helen, “It’s finished!” I think she could not quite understand what I was saying. I repeated to her several times, “It’s finished!” I will explain a little further on why this is so.

If the situation of the church is hopeless, why do we still sing the song, “Give me the faith”? Because there is still a small element of hope, brothers and sisters, and you are the hope for the church of God in these final days. We are living in the last ten years of the second millennium of human history since the days of Christ. You and I are living in very important days, whose importance you and I don’t even begin to understand. If all you think about in life, and through the coming days after this camp, is how to proceed with your profession, how to make more money, how to get more degrees, then you don’t know the day or the hour in which you live, and you will be among the five foolish virgins who got locked out, and lost their hour of opportunity. Let us make this our prayer: Give me the faith!

Part 1: Be wise — Enter into a living relationship with God, the Rock

The first part of my message is on what we didn’t finish yesterday: How do we enter into a living relationship with the Rock of our salvation? If I asked you to stand up to declare publicly that you are in a day-to-day living relation­ship with God, how many in this room would dare stand up? I won’t ask you because it is not my intention to embarrass anyone, much less make you feel proud of yourself when in fact your relation­ship with God may be weak. As one who has been in the pastor­al work for many years, I have known very few people in any church who have a deep and living relationship with God. The church consists of many indivi­duals. So if most Christians — includ­ing you perhaps — have a weak relationship with God, what then has become of the church?

The church: Spiritually awake or asleep?

I don’t want to be unkind, but if your thinking is logical, you will notice some kind of contradiction in the title of the song we sang: “Awake, Awake, O Church of God!” What does the title tell you? That the church is asleep!

While I am preaching here right now, you wouldn’t come up to me at the pulpit and say, “Will you please wake up?” But if I’m dozing off at the pulpit, you might say, “Excuse me, you’re supposed to be preaching, so will you please wake up?” The fact that I am preaching is sufficient proof that I am awake, at least to some degree. Yet this song is saying that the church is asleep. As we read on in the lyrics, we find it a bit humorous that the present tense indicates that the church is still awake in a sense, yet it has to move on. This is confusing. If I am awake, I don’t have to be told to move on. If I am moving on, I don’t have to wake up. I don’t like to be unkind; I really want to appreciate the heart of the songwriter whom I do not know personally. But at least he is clear on one thing: the church is asleep.

My dear brothers and sisters, if the only problem with the church is that it is asleep, it might not be so serious. All you have to do is to wake it up. To be asleep is not in itself a disease. At least I hope it is not a disease, for some types of sleep are indications of disease.

Let us come to the first part of this message: Are you spiritually awake? What does “awake” mean? It means that you are aware of what is happening around you. But if you are asleep, you wouldn’t know what is going on around you.

I remember the sweet early days of my life when I could sleep like a log. I think if a competition were held for sound sleep, I would win the prize. I always remember that while I was in school in Europe, there was an explosion outside our school. Everyone heard it and everyone woke up, but I was the only one who, when told about it the next morning, said, “Explos­ion? What explosion?” Of course, those old days are long gone sweet memories. Now my problem is just the opposite.

When you are sleeping, you are not aware of what is happen­ing around you. When you are spiritually asleep, you don’t see the spirit­ual meaning of the times in which you live. You don’t even know what is happening to you spiritually, never mind other people. If you don’t wake up the next morning, you wouldn’t even know that you had died in your sleep. The church is full of people who don’t know what is going on in the church today. They don’t know what is happening to their own spiritual lives, and even worse, they don’t care!

All of you here are literate. You can read and write. Brothers and sisters, if I read to you a passage from the Bible, and say, “This is what Jesus said,” would you say to me, “Sorry, I don’t understand it because I am illiterate”? Would you say, “Sorry, I am uneducated. The Bible is too deep for me, it’s only for smart people”? Or is the real reason you don’t know what the Bible is saying is that you are asleep and spirit­ually insensitive to the Word of God? We are not even talking on the level of spiritual wisdom. Wisdom is some­thing too high for us. I am only talking about being awake versus being asleep; I cannot get any more basic than that. If I expound on the Biblical teaching of wisdom, you will walk out of this place with a big head filled with lots of theory. I don’t think that will do you any good. So let us just talk about very basic things for simple people like us. Let us just talk about being awake versus being asleep, never mind wisdom versus foolishness.

“Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it”

Assuming that you are awake, let us read Luke 9:23–27, a passage you may have read many times. If you are awake, tell me what it means.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some stand­ing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23–27, ESV)

Here is a passage I am sure you have read many times. Is under­standing this passage a matter of intelligence? Is it the case that intelli­gent people read these words and say, “Yes, I understand it,” whereas those who are less intelligent say, “No, I don’t know what it means”? Or does the true problem lie in being spiritually awake versus spirit­ually asleep? Jesus is not speaking in riddles to confuse you. What he wants is that you may know the living God and build your life upon the Rock. He wants to point you to the path of eternal life. He is not trying confuse you with incoherent directions from point A to point B, “Turn right, turn left, turn right at the opposite junction, then turn left.” You will stand there and say, “Do you mean the first right or the first left? And what do I do after that?”

Much of our spiritual sleepiness stems from the wish that we could unhear what we have just heard. I have often noticed that when my preaching begins to cut into people’s heart, they close their eyes to quiet their hearts a bit because it is getting a bit uncomfort­able.

What is the Lord Jesus saying here? He uses simple language:

“If anyone desires to come after me” — If you don’t wish to come after me, you can start falling asleep now.

“let him deny himself” — But I don’t like to deny myself!

“and take up his cross daily” — Take up the cross to die to the self? And daily? No thanks! “and follow me.”

Then comes the interesting sentence: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” Please raise your hand if you don’t want to save your life. Nobody is raising his hand here, so it means that everyone wants to save his life. But Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it,” which means that all of us are going to lose our lives because we all want to save our lives.

Consider the statement, “But whoever loses his life shall be saved.” Is it correct? You are wide awake, so read it again. Did Jesus really say, “If you lose your life, you will save it”? No, that is not what he said. When we are asleep, that is what we think he said. The crucial words for my sake need to be included: But whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Mt. 10:39; 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24). That is to say, if your whole direction of life is moving towards living for Christ and for God, you will be saved. These are words of wisdom.

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose

I have heard the words of Jesus put differently, but are still very much the words of a wise man. The content is exactly the same in both cases, but the wording is different. Here are the words I hope you will remember and take with you as you leave this camp:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose.

It says exactly the same thing as the Lord Jesus said, but the words are different. These words are often attributed to Jim Elliot who was martyred for bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to an aboriginal tribe in South America. These words were probably not composed by him, but were found in his Bible when they found his dead body by the Amazon in Ecuador.

Think on these words. Your degrees will be worth nothing when you die. You cannot keep your riches or your achieve­ments. The Bible says you came into the world naked, and naked you will leave the world. You cannot take one thing with you. You have worked so hard for them but you will keep noth­ing. Think of any item you cherish, and you will soon realize you cannot keep it. And you cannot remain good in your strong areas, let alone maintain them.

Your health was once good, wasn’t it? But as the years went by, you couldn’t even keep your health, which is going down the drain. So what do you do? You try qigong. You should see how many books on qigong I have studied. We can try kung fu or tai chi at an older age, or more vigorous exercises at an ear­lier age, yet we cannot keep our health. The speed of our martial skills — and our countermoves — is constantly decreasing. The glorious days of the past are disappearing.

You may say, “But surely you can keep your knowledge!” My father had two doctorates as a young man (I still have his doctorate diplomas), but could he take them along with him? Obviously not. Every time I pass by Hawaii, I would visit my father’s grave outside Honolulu. I would stand in silence and remember my father as a great man. Yet he could not take anything with him — not the armies under his command, not his learning, not one strand of hair from his head.

I return to the question, What can you count as truly yours, that you can take with you when you go? “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” There is the wise man! He gives away everything because he can keep nothing, and in exchange he gets what he can never lose. Now you can see what Jesus means when he says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake.” You cannot keep your life. You will lose it anyway, so why not lose it for some­thing worth it? “He who loses his life for my sake will keep it for all eternity.” The spirit­ually foolish are those who try to keep the things they cannot keep. They will end up with nothing, empty-handed! Are you a wise man? Can you understand the meaning of this?

The full-time coworkers are wise men and women

I was thinking to myself, “In these last days, God has done a wonderful work among us in our churches, and I consider it a privilege to be able to cowork with some 80 full-time cowork­ers. In fact, if we took all our coworkers from around the world and put them in this hall, it would be full with all 80 coworkers. By the grace of God, every one of them is a trained professional in their own particular fields. I think at least 98% of them hold degrees from various universities all around the world. And many of them hold higher degrees. If we put together all the degrees of our 80 coworkers, I think we would have a total of something like 120 degrees among us, although I have never counted them.

You are very privileged in Melbourne. You have three full-time cowork­ers at the moment, not counting those who are here just temp­orarily. Each of the three holds two degrees, that is, six degrees among the three, since each holds a Master’s degree as well. But are they mak­ing a lot of money? I calculated from what the church is giving them that the whole team of 5 or 6 coworkers is earning less than what any one of them could earn alone if they were working in the world. And yet they are totally joyful and totally content.

Our Shatin church has ten full-time coworkers; out of the ten, five hold Master’s degrees. Almost all of our full-time coworkers are trained in the sciences. And in our 5th Team, which is presently under training, there are 27 people, most of them computer experts of one kind or another. Many of them have held high positions in admin­istration and in research. But if you come to visit them in Shatin, as some of you have, you will see how they live. They have left behind their big houses, their nice cars, yet they compete with one another to see who can squeeze into the smallest room! And I am the one who has to intervene to ensure that everyone has a decent place to sleep in. They are very wise men and women! But in the eyes of the world, they are fools!

Another time I was thinking, what would be the annual in­come if all of our 80 coworkers were in full employment in their respective profess­ions? It staggers the mind to know how much they could earn if they were earning their expected incomes in the world. They are men and women of wisdom. Why? Because they have given up what they cannot keep to gain what they cannot lose. And what they cannot lose is not some­thing they will get only in the future when they die and are buried: right now they are already experienc­ing what it is to gain some­thing they cannot lose. They are experiencing the living God now! Isn’t that marvelous?

Every man and woman among our 80 coworkers is free to leave the team at any time if they wish. I say to them, “There is only one thing that binds you and me and all of us together: the love of God, and the mission that God has put into our hearts.” If any coworker has lost this vision, or does not wish to contin­ue, he or she can feel free this minute to walk out and not come back.

What is more, if any of our coworkers fails to meet the high­est standard of spiritual excellence — and the standard is already so high that it boggles the minds of most people — I will talk to them heart to heart and say, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I don’t think that you are fit for the work of God. Go back to the profession that you gave up. Earn your money in this world, build your house, buy your car, but leave the team.”

One of the highest penalties in our team for failing to meet the standard of excellence is suspension from the team. They will be asked to leave the team for two or three years, maybe permanently, and there have been a few who have been ex­pelled from the team. They have given up everything for God’s sake, but failed to meet God’s high standard. That standard applies not just to our 80 coworkers but to me as well. Should I fail — and God help me that, by His grace, it will not come to pass — then I am out!

God is doing amazing things. When I look at the way my beloved coworkers live before God, I see the glory of God in their lives. I know that God is real because I have seen the power of His work in their lives in a way which they them­selves cannot see. It is this that keeps me going day after day, especial­ly when I am so exhausted from the work load that I can hardly get up on my feet in the morning. I think few of you can even begin to imagine what it is like to serve as a sort of general supervisor for the work of eight churches, while carry­ing on with the full-time training week after week. After the last Port Dickson camp, I confess to you that I could hardly get up on my feet for three days. I love to swim, and Port Dickson is located right by the beach, yet for three days, I didn’t even have the strength to climb into the waters. Only on the last day did my wife say to me, “We are leaving tomorrow. Will you not try to swim just once, for one or two hours?” She knew I was struggling over this for several hours before I finally got enough courage to crawl into the water to swim even though swimming usually takes me no effort at all.

Let me repeat the statement once more: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This is the prin­ciple behind Jesus’ teaching when he says, “Do not store up for your­selves treasure on earth where moth, rust, thieves, wars, whatever, will rob it all from you.” You cannot keep these riches, so transfer your treasure to where it cannot be taken away from you.

I have lived through two wars in China: the Sino-Japanese War and the Communist War of Liberation. I have seen people who used to have millions of dollars begging on the streets for a bowl of rice. They were not wise enough to see that they could have exchanged their money — which they could not keep — for what they could not lose. They are fools! They did not under­stand the kind of world in which they lived.

Right now, you may have a million dollars in your bank account, but don’t be surprised if one of these days there is a financial crisis, and you are left with nothing. Someone I knew from my student days in London was a multi-million­aire, but one day the stock market crashed, and he ended up with noth­ing! One day he was a multi-millionaire, the next day he had nothing. And I remember the words of the Lord Jesus to the rich fool, “You fool! Tonight your life will be required of you.” Even your life will be gone. What are you going to do with your millions?

How to be wise, with a living relationship with God

R is for repentance

How do we exchange what we cannot keep for what we cannot lose? The Lord Jesus tells us how to do this because he doesn’t want to keep us in the dark. Yesterday I talked about the royal law. The word “royal” consist of five letters, r-o-y-a-l, each of which stands for something significant for our present topic.

The first step in the royal law, or the law of the king, is repentance. You learned about repentance in Sunday school, but do you know what repentance really is? One of the great difficulties in teaching is dealing with those who think they know something when they really don’t. Everyone says, “Oh, I know what repentance is,” yet does not begin to understand what repentance is.

In Matthew 4:17, the very first word that the Lord Jesus preached was “repent”. Why repent? Because God’s kingship is about to be implemented. God is about to reign as King upon this earth. The Bible does not teach that God is King only in hea­ven. The point of Jesus’ message is that God is going to reign here in Melbourne; God is going to reign as King on this earth. And Jesus is saying that because God is going to reign soon, you had better repent. You need to repent in order to enter into a living relationship with God.

Repentance is not just saying “sorry” and then repeating your sin the next time. That is not repentance. Repentance in the Bible means that your whole direction of life has changed. To use Jim Elliot’s statement, the true substance of repent­ance is to give what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose. It is a complete change of direction in life. I can expound each of these points with a whole message, but I am just touching on them and moving on to the important last part of this message.

O is for Obedience

The second thing is obedience. If you want to know the living God, you must learn obedience. In the Bible, obedience does not mean obeying with a long face, but obeying joyfully, as we read in Hebrews 10:7, “I have come to do your will, O God.” If you tell me with a long face, “From now on, I will obey God,” I will say, “Forget it.” But if you say, “Can I have the privilege of living in obedience to God?” I will see that you are beginning to understand the truth.

The gospel as preached in the churches today is some kind of intellectual exercise: believe and you will be saved. Yet the gospel is not just to be believed, but obeyed, as we read in John 3:36; 1 Peter 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 John 5:2.

Y is for Yoked

The third point is yoked. To be yoked means to be joined to Christ. Those who are going to be baptized today will be yoked to Christ through baptism as new people, just like two persons getting married will be yoked to each other, bound to each other, through marriage. So we have the sweetness of commun­ion with Christ, and through him with God, because now we have “commitment,” a term we use often. Yoked means com­mitment: I am committed to Christ, he is com­mitted to me. And this yoke is most important because it is the source of our strength. In a marriage, when one person is weak, the other will support him or her.

What is the point of getting married? Is it to come home for a good quarrel after a whole day’s work? Is it to throw plates at each other as some kind of physical exercise? What is the point of getting yoked together? When two animals are yoked together in a farm, they both carry the load. Likewise when two people are yoked together, they carry the load together instead of working individually.

But in many marriages today, there is a brake on the yoke such that one is trying to go forward, and the other is trying to go backward. It reminds me of cars for driving schools where the instructor has a brake on his side and the student driver has one on his side. When the student steps on the accelerator and the car doesn’t move, it is because the instructor is stepping on the brakes on his side. That’s how it is with many marriages. Those of us in pastoral work have to counsel people with marriage problems, and you wonder why they got married in the first place. Maybe they got married because they enjoy kung fu or boxing, and had no one to fight. Let me assure you that God does not want us to get baptized and yoked to Christ so that we fight him every day. The Lord Jesus has better things to do than that. God wants us to be bound with Christ so that in him we can walk forward hand in hand in sweet fellowship and encourage­ment.

A is for All, Absolute

The next letter is a, which stands for “all” or “absolute.” This part is very important in the Lord Jesus’ teaching, yet it is on this point that most Christians are stuck. I don’t know how many endless hours of counseling that I, not to mention all our coworkers, have spent with people who don’t understand this basic principle of how much one ought to be committed to God. The person may say, “I am 75% committed to God, so can I be bap­tized?” and we say, “No, that’s not enough. 75% will not do.”





It is like bargaining at a Hong Kong market. They don’t under­stand that God requires all or nothing. That is the Scriptural teach­ing, not something we invented. Those of you who have gone through Commitment Train­ing would know this, so I don’t need to spend time on this point. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. You are to love Him with all — with everything — you have.

The words in Luke 14:33 are even more uncompromising: “He who does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” This does not mean that you go sell your car and house, and sleep on the streets. What it means is that from now on you will say, “God, You have redeemed me with the blood of Jesus. I belong to You, and everything I have is Yours.” It is just like in a marriage. Everything I possess, including this beautiful jacket, belongs to my wife. I gave up every­thing when I married her under this yoke. If she wants my wallet, she can have it. I would never say, “Don’t touch it, it belongs to me,” about anything I own. When I married her, I forsook myself; every­thing is hers, and she is mine. So why do we find it so terrible that the Lord Jesus says, “Unless a man forsake all that he has, he cannot be my disciple”?

L is for Launch out

L is for launch out. One of the reasons Christians do not enter into a deep relationship with God is that they are cowards. Many people are eager to get married, yet do not understand that it takes a lot of cour­age to get married. If you have never been married, you wouldn’t under­stand this whole problem. You are going to give your life to someone for the next 50 years, or however long you will be together. Yet it takes even more courage to be a Christian. The prob­lem with many Christians is they don’t have the courage to launch out into something new. Marriage is something new, but becoming a Christian is something even newer.

America became great because of its pioneering spirit: Go west, young man! Launch out into the unknown! That is the kind of attitude you see in Peter. In Luke 5:4, the Lord Jesus tested Peter by saying, “Take the boat and launch out into the deep.” In Luke 8:22, Jesus told his disciples to launch out and cross over to the other side of Galilee. But they launched out straight into a storm! The Lord Jesus knew that the storm was coming, yet he said to them, “Take the boat out into the lake.” Becoming a Christian is not for cowards, for it takes courage to launch out into something new. And it takes great courage to give up what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose.

Part 2: The church of God is dead

I come to the last part of my message. The first part dealt with each one of us individually, how we can enter into a living relationship with God in what the Bible calls “wisdom”.

Before we close, let us talk about the church. When I talk about the church, my heart gets very heavy. I am not saying that the other churches are bad whereas our church is good. Anyone who thinks I talk like that does not understand me. If you and I are true Christians, we are part of the whole church of God spread throughout Australia, Canada, and the rest of the world. I am not talking about your church or my church, but the church of God as it stands on earth today.

What is the problem with the church? I find it hard to speak on this because the more I think about it, the heavier my heart gets. We can say in one sentence that the church is simply not the church that God meant it to be. Today the church which we call “the church of God” is simply not the church that Christ died for. Please wake up and see the situation if you have not already fallen asleep spiritually. The church has been totally corrupted by the world, and I mean totally. If you truly walk with God, it would hurt your heart as it hurt mine.

We can run away from the problem by saying that by God’s grace, our group of churches is building up churches that are vigorous and full of God’s life, and are growing at a remarkable speed. But if we think like this, we are foolish because sooner or later, what is happen­ing to the other churches all around us will eventually affect us as well, for we are one body. If I have cancer in the liver, my heart may still be healthy, my brain may be healthy, at least for the moment, but if the problem is not treated, the cancer in the liver will spread to my whole body, and kill me in the end.

If the church were only asleep, it would not be too big a problem. But the church is not only asleep but also blind! It does not see the dangers ahead. Worse than that, the church of God is dead! It is a corpse! And God’s judgment will come upon His church.

The church has been corrupted by the world

I was in Malaysia recently for a camp, and there I was reading the newspapers and gathering some interesting material. I keep in touch with the latest news developments all the time.

Here is a picture that really made me think. It shows a huge snake, a python, seven meters long — 22 or 23 feet long — about the length of a room, coiled around several times. A little child was relaxing on the snake and playing with it. The snake could make a meal of this child in a few minutes if it happened to be hungry. It was obviously not hungry at the moment. A python kills its prey by crushing it to death before swallowing it. This seven-meter python could almost swallow a whole cow, not to mention this six-year-old boy!

In this picture, I see the church and the world. In the Bible, the snake is a symbol of Satan. The snake in this photo has a beautiful and attractive pattern on its skin. It looks so friend­ly, so gentle, and so tame that the parents could entrust it for their son to play with it. The boy doesn’t even know what this snake can do to him, just as the church doesn’t understand what the world can do to it. To me, this is a parable. As I pondered on it, I said, “Lord, has this happened to the church?” The serpent, the deadliest enemy of the church, has become the friend of the church! A very strange thing has happened.

The world honors those of us who are pastors. When I was invited to pastor the church in Montreal, I applied for immi­gration to Canada. Because I was a pastor, they moved me from the end of the queue to the front, without my having to line up as everyone else did. The snake has become my friend! What has happened to the church? The church has been corrupted.

What does God expect His church to be?

Let us summarize in a few points what God expects His church to be.

1. The church is one

The church is to be one. Wherever the Bible speaks of the church, you see the word “one” or an equivalent concept. 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 says,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… (ESV)

Paul exhorts the church to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of love, so that the world may see God’s oneness through the oneness of the church. In this context, the word “one” does not mean numerical one. It means harmony; it means love; it means peace in relation to one another; it means cooperation; it means caring for one another. No matter whether you are Baptist, Methodist, or Anglican, we are one.

But you don’t have to be a Christian to know that the church is not one. It ceased to be one long ago. Not only is it not one, there is constant infighting and verbal attacks within the church. Someone criticizes me, criticizes you, or criticizes the other person. Is this the church of God? That is why I say this is not the church of God. Did Jesus die for this? The church is a disgrace to God’s name, let’s put it in plain language. If you have ever attended a meeting of pastors, you will go away with a heart weighed down like a stone. There is probably nothing so disgraceful in this world as a meeting of pastors. When pastors get together and the congregation is not there to see them, God help us! A gathering of business­men would be more harmonious, more peaceful, more positive than a gathering of so-called “pastors”. This is not the church God sent Christ to die for!

2. The church is light

What else is the church meant to be? The Lord Jesus says, “You are a city set on a hill, a light that shines for everyone to see.” The church is meant to be light. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Once you were darkness, now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). Let me ask you, even if you are not a Christian, do you think that the church is light? It’s a disgrace! It’s a shame! I feel embarrassed to be a member of the church. Read the newspapers: this pastor runs away with money, that pastor runs away with a wo­man, and another molests children. I have had enough of reading this! And when pastors commit these sins, what does the church do? Nothing! Sin counts for nothing in the church! Is this the church of God? Look into the New Testament to see what the New Testament church was like. Then look at the church around you, and you will see that these are two different things.

3. The church is a family

Let us talk about the most elementary thing the Bible says about the church: the church is a family. That is why we call each other brothers and sisters. We care for one another. But if you visit a church, you will find that in some cases, no one even says hello to you.

If you walked into your own house and nobody says hello to you, you would think, “Have I come to the wrong place? Is this my home?” Nobody even greets you in this so-called “church.” Is this the church of God? Then you meet the pastor. Oh, he is the mighty man! He has gold-rimmed glasses like me, and his attitude is: “Do you know who I am? I’m the pastor here.” You will say, “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.” This is a pastor? Where is the beauty, the humility, the glory of Christ? If the church of God is led by people like this, what is going to happen to it? So help us God! I don’t mean I am any better than they, but one thing I cannot stand, brothers and sisters, is hypocrisy. Come to me some time, and I will tell you about my weaknesses. Or ask my wife, and she will tell you. But I trust that hypocrisy is not one of my weaknesses. One thing I don’t understand is the hypocrisy of pastors. That is something beyond my compre­hension.

I once visited the church of a well-known pastor in Toronto who never ceases to say evil things about me behind my back. A couple in his church, who used to be a couple in our church, wanted me to preach their wedding message at their church. So for their sake, I went over to preach at their wedding. When I arrived at this big Toronto church, this pastor immediately greeted me, “Ah, Pastor Chang, how are you?” I looked at him and simply said, “Good morning,” and not another word. He stretched out his hand to me, but I refused to shake it. You didn’t know I’m that bad, did you? Now you know! Do you know why? I cannot stand hypocrisy. This pastor had been saying evil things about me behind my back for at least a couple of years, but what does he do when he sees my face? He becomes the perfect actor! I mean, Hollywood has not seen anything of this caliber!

To tell you the truth, brothers and sisters, if he were a business­man who spoke every evil about me falsely, I would shake his hand. I would show him the love of Christ. If possible, I would brush his shoes. But I will not tolerate a pastor who is a liar and a hypocrite. Having said “good morning” to him, I walked past him without a smile on my face. He tried to follow me to talk to me, but I refused to talk to him. I will not speak to a hypocrite be­cause my Lord Jesus cannot stand hypocrites. Read this for yourself in Matthew chapter 23. He said to the religious leaders, “Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like a tomb, whitewashed on the outside, but inside you are dead men’s bones!” The Lord Jesus cannot stand the church with its hypocrisy.

I say to you brothers and sisters, you may have faults like I have, but I beg of you one thing, please may hypocrisy not be one of them. Be an honest person, a genuine person, and the world may hate you for it. That famous pastor in Toronto kept telling everyone I never smiled at him when I went to his church. Well, that is true. I never smiled at him; and I will not smile at him until the day he repents before God of the lies and the hypocrisy in his life. There is the disease of the church. What happens to a church when it is led by a man like this? And let us be fair to this man: he is not the only hypocrite in the church, nor even the only pastor who is a hypocrite.

These famous pastors in Toronto don’t love me. They fear me be­cause they know I will not spare them if they dare so much as commit one sin. The strangest thing is this: they may hate me right to the bone, yet every time they see me, they bow and fawn. And do you want to know something terrible? I am ice cold to them! I am a servant of God, not a church politician. I am at least a minor prophet of God in the sense that the Chinese churches in Australia, Canada, and around the world hate me, because I am not kind to them, because I expose their sins, because I denounce their evil right to their faces.

But I will tell you another side to me in case you think, “Wow! This is a terrible man!” I aspire to be one thing: to be a friend of sinners, to be a friend of the weak, to be a servant of the poor, to be friends with those who are meek and lowly. If you are among the meek and lowly, I not only want to be your friend, I would like to be your servant, because the Lord Jesus said, “I came into the world not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

God will destroy the unrepentant, worldly church

In closing, I will share with you a dream I had in Kuala Lumpur just before coming to this camp. I have shared it with our coworkers in Kuala Lumpur. I seldom dream, and if I ever have a dream, I usually cannot remember it.

In my dream, I was walking by a large and ancient pool dat­ing from the time of Jesus, which supplied water to the city of Jerusalem. Today it is surrounded by a steel fence be­cause it is a tourist attraction. I studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in my student days, which is why I knew I was walking past Mamilla Pool in Jerusalem. As I was walking, I thought to myself, “How is it that I am in Jerusalem?”

I looked around, and what struck me was that all the buildings looked as if they were hit by a hydrogen bomb. When something is burned, it turns black, but apparently, when it is hit by one of these dreadful bombs, they turn yellow. Everything was dead. The pool had no water, the buildings were destroyed, Jerusalem was destroyed. Sudden­ly my heart became very heavy. Jerusalem is dead!

Then I noticed a tunnel. I knelt down, and walked into this tunnel on my knees, for my heart was so heavy I could not walk on my feet. The surface was very stony and rough, but if it was ripping my knees, I did not notice it.

Jerusalem, the city above, was dead! Why? Because we know from the Bible that when God brings judgment upon a nation, the nation is destroyed. But there were lots of people in the tunnel underneath. I would expect the people to be repenting of their sins because God’s judgment had come upon them, yet I did not see any repentance. To my astonish­ment, I saw a cinema, and people were crowding in to watch a movie. At the other side, I saw another cinema into which the people were streaming to get more entertain­ment. And I said, “O my Lord God! Judgment has destroyed Jerusalem, yet there is no repent­ance!” The people’s hearts are going after the world! They seek entertainment and amuse­ment in the midst of destruction and death. They are trying to forget the problems which are entangling them.

I woke up from this vision, and grief filled my heart. In the Bible, Jerusalem is a symbol of the church. God’s judgment is coming upon the church, but where are those who repent? Paul speaks of the church as the glory of Christ, something beautiful and manifesting the light of God to the whole world, so that the nations may stream into the church with one specific request: Teach me how to know the living God. That is what we read in the Bible (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2). The church is meant to be glorious, but it is dead, dis­united, led by hypo­crites. There is no love, no righteousness. Truth has been rejected and discarded. Is this the church for which Christ died?

Are you among “the wise” whom God will preserve?

I think of the Lord Jesus hanging on the cross, with his blood flowing out for us to build the church, a new society, a new community of righteous­ness and truth in which God is King and where His glory shines. Show me that church! Where is it? Did Christ die in vain? If there is any hope left, brothers and sisters, you are that hope. Will you let the glory of the living God shine forth from your life in the days before the church is finally wiped out by Him?

God is going to destroy the church! Read your Bible and you will know. God cannot tolerate hypocrisy and corrupt­ion, but He will preserve a remnant of “the wise”, just as He did in the Old Testa­ment. The Bible calls that final, faithful remnant “the wise”. Are you part of that remnant which, when people look at you, they will say, “I have seen you and God’s glory in you!”? The time that is left for this world is very short, and if there is any hope left, you are that hope. Are you among the wise?


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church